Domestic Violence

- 1944-

               1.

It was winter, lunar, wet. At dusk
Pewter seedlings became moonlight orphans.
Pleased to meet you meat to please you
said the butcher's sign in the window in the village.

Everything changed the year that we got married.
And after that we moved out to the suburbs.
How young we were, how ignorant, how ready
to think the only history was our own.

And there was a couple who quarreled into the night,
Their voices high, sharp:
nothing is ever entirely
right in the lives of those who love each other.

               2.

In that season suddenly our island
Broke out its old sores for all to see.
We saw them too.
We stood there wondering how

the salt horizons and the Dublin hills,
the rivers, table mountains, Viking marshes
we thought we knew
had been made to shiver

into our ancient twelve by fifteen television
which gave them back as gray and grayer tears
and killings, killings, killings,
then moonlight-colored funerals:

nothing we said
not then, not later,
fathomed what it is
is wrong in the lives of those who hate each other.

             3.

And if the provenance of memory is
only that—remember, not atone—
and if I can be safe in
the weak spring light in that kitchen, then

why is there another kitchen, spring light
always darkening in it and
a woman whispering to a man
over and over what else could we have done?

               4.

We failed our moment or our moment failed us.
The times were grand in size and we were small.
Why do I write that
when I don't believe it?

We lived our lives, were happy, stayed as one.
Children were born and raised here
and are gone,
including ours.

As for that couple did we ever
find out who they were
and did we want to?
I think we know. I think we always knew.

More by Eavan Boland

Atlantis—A Lost Sonnet

How on earth did it happen, I used to wonder
that a whole city—arches, pillars, colonnades, 
not to mention vehicles and animals—had all 
one fine day gone under?

I mean, I said to myself, the world was small then.
Surely a great city must have been missed?
I miss our old city —

white pepper, white pudding, you and I meeting 
under fanlights and low skies to go home in it. Maybe 
what really happened is 

this: the old fable-makers searched hard for a word
to convey that what is gone is gone forever and 
never found it. And so, in the best traditions of 

where we come from, they gave their sorrow a name
and drowned it.

Quarantine

In the worst hour of the worst season
    of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking – they were both walking – north.

She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
     He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.

In the morning they were both found dead.
    Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.

Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
     There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
There is only time for this merciless inventory:

Their death together in the winter of 1847.
      Also what they suffered. How they lived.
And what there is between a man and woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.

Amethyst Beads


And when I take them out of
the cherrywood box these beads are
the colour of dog-violets in shadow. Then
at the well of the throat where
tears start
they darken. Now I wear at my neck an old stress
of crystal: an impression of earthly housekeeping.
A mysterious brightness
made underground where there is no sun
only stories of a strayed child and her mother bargaining
with a sullen king. Promising and arguing: 
what she can keep, what she can let him have. Shadows 
and the season violets start up in are part of 
the settlement. Stolen from such a place
these beads cannot be anything 
but wise to the healing arts of compromise,
of survival. And when I wear them it is almost
as if my skin was taking into itself
a medicine of light. Something like the old simples.
Rosemary, say, or tansy.
Or camomile which they kept
to cool fever. Which they once used to soothe a child
tossing from side to side, beads of sweat catching 
and holding a gleam from the vigil lamp. 
A child crying out in her sleep
Wait for me. Don’t leave me here.
Who will never remember this.
Who will never remember this.